Our cultural heritage

It is important that we remain on the alert as these unique features which make us proud to be Maltese are fragile and may easily be lost

This week UNESCO is holding its eighteenth session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage. One of the items on the agenda is the recognition of the traditional Maltese festa as an intangible heritage.

This notable milestone in the recognition of a unique Maltese tradition was achieved following years of hard work by the Labour government.

The recognition and preservation of our traditions plays a key role in defining who we are and what makes us a unique family of 27 distinct European nations in an increasingly globalised world. Our traditions and culture also serve as a source of social and economic wealth.

Krakelingen and Tonnekensbrand, the Maltese festa, and the Varia di Palmi are a few examples of important networking events which boost the kinship between neighbours in a community. This kinship forms the basis for our social fabric and cohesion and improves our quality of life. Kinship also reduces society’s reliance on social assistance from the government.

Our culture and heritage are trademark features for our tourism sectors and hence a direct source of economic wealth too. Many Mediterranean destinations are associated with the mass exodus towards warm weather in summer. These once yearly cycles of mass tourism are sometimes the source of tension with exasperated locals who feel stifled and trampled on in their own homes.

Our heritage and cultural events may be enjoyed throughout the year and hence less likely to be a source of ‘nuisance tourism’. The locals are also more likely to be patient and receptive towards tourists who wish to appreciate their way of life. It is therefore imperative that we proactively aim to not just uphold anything that makes us unique but also to enhance the image and experience of what we have to offer.

I try to use my influence within the European Parliament to promote the protection of all traditions wherever possible.

Earlier this year I intervened to ensure that the EU’s local representatives are able to speak the Maltese language. The ability to speak our language is an indispensable requirement for an individual to integrate in our society and be able to understand our frame of mind.

Various EU funding streams incentivise initiatives that safeguard cultural heritage, including the flagship Creative Europe programme, and a handy online tool makes life easier for interested parties. The budget for this programme increased by 50% for the 2021-2027 cycle, but a sizeable share is reserved for initiatives which augment cooperation between countries. Whilst the promotion of our shared European culture is desirable, I believe that purely local and regional features are even more relevant. The EU exists because of, and not in spite of, our diversity and we must increase the funds available to celebrate and protect this diversity.

It is important that we remain on the alert as these unique features which make us proud to be Maltese are fragile and may easily be lost. I understand the concern that Valletta’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site may be lost if development is not planned more carefully. Overdevelopment in our village cores may lead to a loss of key architectonic features. In the future, it may be worth considering adding safeguards at European level for culture and heritage on similar lines to what was done through the Natura 2000 network for environmentally important areas.

I meet representatives of the organisations which keep our traditions alive on a regular basis to appreciate their difficulties and concerns. I shall continue doing so and I give you my word that I will continue doing my best to promote initiatives which facilitate the recognition, preservation, and enhancement of our heritage. I take this opportunity to praise the Bormliżi for sticking to tradition by celebrating their feast when it is due, and to wish them well for their upcoming festa week.